UFC 188 will see a clash for the UFC Heavyweight strap but who's next after that? Let's take a look at the top contenders to see if we can get a jump on our UFC picks.
The Alpha Males (excludes Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum)
1. Junior dos Santos (17-3, 12 KO's, 2 Subs) - It's getting a bit repetitious in the heavyweight category isn't it? UFC odds makers know that JDS has already had his obligatory rubber match with the champion Cain Velasquez and it would seem a bit over the top to match these two a fourth time assuming Velasquez successfully defends his title against Werdum. But what else is Dana White to do after dos Santos recently decisioned the number three contender Stipe Miocic? The UFC either needs an influx of new talent at heavyweight or hope Jon Jones packs on a few pounds after his stint at the Gray Bar Hotel is done.
2. Andrei Arlovski (24-10, 17 KO's, 3 Subs) - Arlovski is fun to watch with his knockout power, vampire fangs and unbridled enthusiasm he brings to each venture inside the Octagon. But here we have a 36-year-old fighter with more miles on his engine than a '72 Impala. Arlovski has already been down this road with major leagues of MMA dating as far back as UFC 28 - not UFC 128 mind you - when he secured the second of three submissions in his career thus far over the immortal Aaron Brink. Those who place UFC picks know that Arlovski has been undefeated since he returned to the UFC with a split decision victory over Brendan Schaub, a knockout over Antonio Silva and a TKO in his last bout over Travis Browne. Arlovski's ranking clearly illustrates how little depth the UFC has in their marquee division.
3. Stipe Miocic (13-2, 9 KO's, 1 Sub) - I give Miocic more credit for his Fight of the Night decision loss to Junior dos Santos than his KO of 41-year-old Mark Hunt in his most recent fight. It took Miocic a good five rounds to put the aging warrior to sleep and although a knockout is always a fine way to end your evening - as long as you're the one not taking the very public nap - it did little to enhance his chances of getting a shot at the title.
4. Travis Browne (17-3, 13 KO's, 2 Subs) - Here we have the 4th ranked fighter in the premium MMA organization in the world and he lost his last fight via a first-round knockout (to Andrei Arlovski). Once again, the UFC's dearth of talent at this level is startling. Browne is a fighter I can't quite figure out. He's got a plodding, almost uncoordinated style but has enormous power in both fists. Sometimes he looks downright explosive while other times it appears he's a novice who threw a lucky punch. He's not what you think of as the number four heavyweight contender but here he is, all 6'7" of him.
5. Ben Rothwell (34-9, 20 KO's 11 Subs) - Rothwell banged out Brandon Vera in the third round of UFC 164 and then returned to the Octagon with a first-round wipeout of Alistair Overeem in September of last year. He is scheduled to fight another big banger in Matt Mitrione tonight and that result could either propel Rothwell into the title conversation or see him tumble down the heavyweight ladder.
The Best of the Rest
If the UFC had harvested the following collection of heavyweights 10 years ago then it would arguably be the deepest and most exciting division in all of MMA. Think about having these killer sharks swimming in the same pool five years after the dawn of the new millennium: Josh Barnett, Mark Hunt, Alistair Overeem, Andrei Arlovski, Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, Alexey Oliynyk, Roy Nelson, Fabricio Werdum and of course Frank Mir.
Believe it or not all these fighters are all currently active in the UFC heavyweight division. Imagine this collection of fistic brilliance when all were in their primes under one big tent. Well the tent is here but unfortunately time is a thief and it has, to one degree or another, eroded the skills of all previously mentioned.
Unless Werdum scores a surprising victory over the current champ, expect Cain Velasquez to rule the division for many years to come.